Anyone who's stumbled onto a British news site in the last couple of months will likely know that the country's parliamentarians have been neck-deep in a vat of hot water for quite some time. A sizeable scandal concerning expenses has tarnished the Members of Parliament (MPs) in numbers never seen before (short version: scrutiny of expenses claimed by MPs for living costs related to their service at the Houses of Parliament in London revealed endemic abuse of the system, if not widespread theft from the taxpayer).
You'd think all of that was bad news, but the good old BBC (as us British expats are more or less legally obliged to call it) reported yesterday on an unlikely silver lining: a once-in-a-generation chance to increase parliamentary diversity. According to this report, a record 89 MPs--13.8 percent of the total--have so far announced their intention not to stand for re-election in 2010. (I should point out that not all of the 89 are stepping down because of the expenses scandal, but you can bet that the majority are.)
So great is the opportunity to effect lasting change that a parliamentary committee has recommended that half of the 89 MPs "be replaced by women and a big increase in black, Asian, disabled and gay MPs." Change is long overdue; despite being one of the first Western nations to elect a female leader—not to mention the longest serving one to date—little over 100 of the 646 seats in Parliament are filled by women. Meanwhile, the stats for ethnic diversity are even more stark. In a country where around a third of the population is non-white, according to the last Census in 2001, only 15 members of minority groups serve in Parliament. In case you're wondering, that's 2.3 percent.
While the call for greater diversity from within Parliament itself is laudable, there are also legitimate concerns within the UK that the coming election could actually see things take a turn for the worse. This is, after all, the country that elected two members of the far-right British National Party at the recent elections for the European Parliament. (And let me clarify what I mean by "far right"—the party stands on an anti-immigration platform, and doesn't allow non-white members.)
Should make for an interesting election, anyway!
--Posted by Phil Stott
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